NEW YORK (Reuters) - Newark Mayor Ras Baraka's administration has sued New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, accusing the fellow Democrat of dumping his city's population of homeless people on New Jersey's biggest city.
The lawsuit accuses the de Blasio administration's Special One-Time Assistance, or SOTA, program of using strong-arm tactics to send people across the Hudson River to find a place to live.
"This case concerns an unlawful program of 'coerced' migration," Newark lawyers say in court documents filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey on Monday.
New York City officials are accused of "forcing SOTA recipients to accept the proverbial 'offer they can't refuse,'" the documents said, explaining that the phrase from the 1972 American Mafia film "The Godfather" is "really a command, 'Do what we say or else.'"
The lawsuit accuses New York of violating federal commerce laws. It cites several former New York shelter residents who were hustled through tours of New Jersey apartments and pressured to quickly commit to one, with the SOTA Program paying landlords a full year's rent up front.
"She was told by case managers in her shelter that she should look in New Jersey, in the cities of Newark or Paterson, because New York landlords were leery of the SOTA program and because she would find something quicker in New Jersey," Newark's lawyers said in court filings.
The de Blasio administration said Newark's lawsuit would hurt rather than help families seeking to emerge from homelessness.
"This is wrong, hypocritical, and amounts to nothing short of income-based discrimination. We will continue to fight to ensure that families have the right to seek stable and safe housing," de Blasio's deputy press secretary, Avery Cohen, said in an email.
Baraka, Newark's mayor since 2014 and the son of poet and African-American activist Amiri Baraka, and de Blasio, a former Democratic presidential candidate, appeared together in Newark last year to announce a tenant initiative aimed at ending illegal evictions. The New Jersey program was modeled after one in New York City and both mayors praised one another for pursuing the initiatives.
The vast majority of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness – over 63,000 homeless men, women and children – spend the night instead within the city's shelter system where they remain unseen, according to The Bowery Mission nonprofit group. In a city of 8.5 million people, nearly one in every 121 New Yorkers is currently homeless.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)